Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

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Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore

Chapter 17 : A Grand Tour, 2011

Back to boat

We have returned safely to our boat Moore 2 Life. Our friends greeted us on Rock n Roll and Seyella who all stayed on board their boats over the Christmas holiday and into the New Year. They had reported that the temperature went down to minus twenty centigrade at one time. Thankfully it is a bit milder now, the snowman we made has long gone but ice remains on the canal.

We had left with snow and ice all over the boat so in such conditions it is important to carry out a full winterisation. Both engine and radiator systems should have 50% antifreeze mixture. Turn off the water tank tap, undo the connection to the pump and turn on the hot taps first. When all the hot water has gone turn on the cold taps. Switch off the pump power and reconnect the water supply. Leave all taps open so when you return all you do is turn on the tank tap and restore power to the pump. Turn the taps off when water comes through. I had also taken the precaution of covering the pump, feed and supply pipes with blanket to protect them. I am only sorry not to have mentioned all this before we all left our boats to the elements. We were so saddened to read about Del and Al on Derwent 6 who have suffered so much frost damage.

It was colder inside than out and Molly's drinking water had frozen. Our solar panels had kept the batteries full with a gentle charging voltage so the central heating could be turned on after restoring the water supply. Once the oil fire had got going we then got a welcome cup of tea on Seyella.

A convoy of boats

Most of the ice has gone and this week promises to be mild. All three boats are setting off in convoy intending to meet up with another boat on the Shropshire Union but not before all boats were tanked up with diesel and water and used other facilities. By late morning the convoy left Gailey and covered thirteen lock miles on their first journey together. On the way only a few icebergs were seen lurking under trees and at various bends in the canal. Regaining their freedom to move cheered up all members of the boat crew. So much so that when arriving at the destination they all convened at a meeting on one of the boats to discuss further moves.

Moving north, Shropshire Union canal pictures

The convoy stopped a night at Wheaton Aston where it was joined by a fourth boat, No Problem. The crews were all invited by Sue and Vic to join them for a chinwag on their boat. Next morning all crewmembers were up and about getting set to move on. Seyella with Geoff driving led the way. Ann let go the bow rope as he passed and we were away next, followed by Rock n Roll and No Problem bringing up the rear. Only two miles covered as we stopped at Little Onn. After lunch we all went off for a walk round the fields near Church Eaton.

Next day we all set off in a different order and stopped at Gnosall for a quick trip to the shops. It was not long before we all stopped again as some wood was seen begging to be cut up and burnt. The convoy then continued on to Norbury where Vic and Geoff cut the wood up.

It is here that the convoy will split in two. We plan to go our separate ways. The Rockers and Yella to continue north while Problem and Lifers head back south. But first a record has been accomplished. No less than four boats together with eight crewmembers on board Rock n Roll, at least one crewmember from each boat writing a Blog.

The latest problem on the Shroppie is a major rock fall at the top of Tyrley locks between bridge 58 and 59. So the convoy is obliged to turn south.

Which way to go?

The winter stoppages are changing due to the weather. Some are cancelled, some are added and dates altered. Need to keep informed through Waterscape on the web. Then get the maps out and sort out possible routes. We have a choice of three from Autherley Junction at the end of the Shroppie. We can go South to Stourport, North to Great Haywood or East to Birmingham. But our long-term wish is to head for Braunston and Crick to meet friends.

There are stoppages whichever way we go so it is down to where is open first. The route through Birmingham is open on 11th March. Tixall Lock should be open on 28th January, which would allow us to get through Colwich Lock before it closes on the 7th of February. Then we have a clear run to Atherstone that opens on 28th. Should all be clear by the time we get that far. Now we can concentrate on the detail, where to stop, walk and shop.

Do not worry

We have just topped up our tank with red road diesel. It has less sulphur in it so will produce less sulphuric acid than the gas oil. The engine is running OK and our diesel fire is still quite hot so enough said on that subject.

Been on the 880 bus from Wheaton Aston to Stafford and just do not know how the driver got us safely through all the narrow country lanes. Found B and Q, Maplins, Argos and other electronic stores just south east of the town. There are loads of gismos to see and wonder what they are all for. But mostly made in China these days rather than Japan. After some food from KFC we walked back in town looking for mobile phone accessories.

Back on our boat we set off to catch up with the convoy now waiting for us just south of Brewood. Crewmembers from all four boats gathered again this time on board No Problem and enjoyed music, chat and booze to the end of the day. When we had recovered next day the convoy finally split in two. No Problem and Moore 2 Life made it to Moat House Bridge on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. It was a cold grey day ending in dampness so we were all glad to have arrived. We ended up about three miles due east of the other two boats Seyella and Rock n Roll.

National Association of Boat Owners (NABO)

This association is worth supporting because the committee are representing our boating interests. British Waterways have been given a privately restored canal system to look after. They should operate under the British Waterways Act passed by government in 1995. There are currently several official complaints made by NABO concerning BW's interpretation of the Act as contained in their Terms and Conditions. Many aspects of these are being legally challenged and should be resolved hopefully before BW becomes a charity.

And so we split

Two go south and two go north. It has been a hard winter spent with good friends and we have so enjoyed their company. Three days later we got to Penkridge as the days got cooler. Thin ice on the way reformed into a sheet while we spent time shopping at the market. "Just hope it does not get too thick again." Do not fancy staying on this town Visitor Moorings due to some night disturbance with people and their lack of respect.

So next day we all moved off heading for a weekend mooring by Shutt Hill lock. That lock had just opened after 10 days of repair work. We were breaking thin ice all the way and this morning it had got broken up by a boat going past us.

Stocking up, Trent and Mersey canal pictures

After a couple of days at Tixel Wide we moved into Great Haywood when the ice had gone. It was way back at the beginning of November last year that we had left here intending to return in December. You can never be too sure how plans will work out with our nomadic life style. We have to be prepared for any eventuality. It was that early start to winter that stopped us getting back. We backed up to the water point with some difficulty due to the wind so that we were facing in the direction we intended to leave. Eventually after some time going sideways we got there and were being pulled in by Shelia from Sanity Again. Bruce was there as well. Strange to remember that they were there when we left! "Thanks for your help." Got the water tank filled and that other cassette emptied then filled the diesel tank.

Once all done we moved off to the Visitor Moorings and went shopping. The butcher had some rabbit and venison for sale. It is a very long time ago that we had rabbit stew. When we caught up with Sue, she lent us her Farmers Kitchen book that had a recipe using rice and tomatoes with bacon. "Not quite the taste expected but, as I remember, it was full of bones." I look forward to the venison stakes later.

We have now got past that Colwich lock which was due to shut soon for three weeks. I wonder what they have planned this year. The bottom gates are very heavy to move and are so unbalanced they open themselves. Last years efforts did not solve the problem. The new owners of that Lock Cottage must be a bit put out having their back garden used for access.

The sun shines

It was one of those days that reminded us of the good times when we really enjoy boating. We did not go far but we went slowly and drunk in the wine it was so good. Spring is in the air and the evidence on the ground with woodland carpets of snowdrops and crocus. The early signs before spring gets going with daffodils. Only three miles but it was Cannock Chase, open countryside with the warmth of the sun on our faces.

All too soon we had arrived at Rugeley where our records show that we have been here most years since 2001. Spent a few days here to shop and look around before moving on. Seems many boats are doing the same between stoppages. We drifted on past the power station belching steam and pollution, through the narrows at Armitage and stopped near Kings Bromley.

While travelling on the canals we are often amused by the humorous sights provided by those on land, often unseen by those who stand on solid ground. We appreciate those who provide us with something to see that is pretty, well kept and creative. The back gardens which slope down to the canal edge where the owners cannot see from their own homes. There is, sadly, such a contrast between villages, towns and cities that either turn their backs on the waterways or those that embrace them.

Canals need respect

It was while staying in Rugeley that we saw a bonfire burning late at night. It was near the edge of the canal and some of the rubbish ended up in the water with a big splash. The general public it seems are intent on loosing their unwanted by spreading it about the countryside and in the waterways.

Massive clean ups by various voluntary organisations do their very best but it seems they have to keep doing it. A clean sweep is very much required within those organisations that claim to be looking after our waterways. Volunteers already do their bit but there really is a need to employ lock keepers and lengthmen with the local knowledge to properly look after our waterway system.

Redundancies are happening at the wrong end of British Waterways in an attempt to save money. That approach is clearly not working. One man at the top costs much more than one at the bottom, but the ones at the bottom are worth a lot more. The waterways need people who care and know how to look after them.

Tea, cake and flapjacks

When Sue and Vic got their new prop fitted and tested to their great satisfaction both boats stopped further on. Creating a gathering of three boats that included Derwent 6. Once we had got secured to the bank and relit the fire Del and Al invited us all round for hot drinks while Ann provided her melt in the mouth coffee cake.

Next day we returned the favour by inviting them all on Moore 2 Life and enjoyed homemade flapjacks made by Ann and Al. We moved on to Huddlesford to pick up a Tesco order in the morning. While busy putting it all away Balmaha passed with a greeting and continued to Whittington. Next thing we know there we were all inside with Mo and Van enjoying their tea and cake.

Where are we?

The National Census is about to record where we all are and how many mouths need feeding for the next ten years. We have been on a boat moving about the countryside since they last checked. We know where we are but how can they know? Well I would hope that our postal address will do but we are not there very often. I suspect that there are many cases where people are not counted.

We have moved again! No problem following that boat from Hopwas to Alvechurch. That other boat Balmaha passed by. We are quite independent really until we hit those locks when we helped each other through. One paddle on the first lock did not open so it was so slow to fill.

Wet, muddy n grubby

Seem to be drifting along slowly but making some progress heading south. The town of Atherstone has had a makeover since we last passed this way. The shops along the roman street have been painted and the town is busy with people.

Back on the canal it is a different story. The damp weather has just made the poor state of the towpaths worse. Puddles and mud are making it difficult and unpleasant to walk. It is such a shame that the lock keeper appears to have left. In many past years the flight of locks were so well kept with painted gates, cut grass, trimmed hedges and tubs of flowers at the top lock cottage.

Any volunteers that British Waterways are looking for will have a hard act to follow. Apparently Job Seekers have been volunteered to work on the towpaths around Stoke. The teams have been set to work cutting back vegetation, repainting metalwork and resurfacing the paths. A scheme organised between the government, BW and the local council. Let us hope that will encourage the general public to show some respect to the canals.

Despite our seemingly slow progress we have got through that grubby town of Nuneaton. Rubbish is being thrown over into the canal at bridges and covers the banks with drink containers, plastic bags and goodness knows what else. Perhaps the council here should be getting volunteers to clear it but maybe they do not care either.

The Oxford Canal, Oxford canal pictures

We are now on the Oxford canal and stopping around Rugby. The towpaths here are no better. The sun came out to play its warmth on the land and we walked round the Newbold Quarry Lake with Sue, Vic and the girls.

We then stopped the night at Clifton. Ann went up to the shops to get her hair cut and bring back the post. I set to and cleaned out our oil fire, which needs scraping out every two or three weeks. The oil leaves behind a handful of carbon deposits that needs a sharp knife to loosen it. Also discovered that the securing screws had got loose and the whole fire had moved a bit.

Next day was sunny and warm which made for an enjoyable trip up the Hillmorton locks and on to a mooring near the prison for naughty boys. The lock paddles are always hard to lift on this flight and the winter stoppage has not improved them. However the rare cast iron 150 year old gates have been taken out, restored, painted and replaced.

Computer widows or slaves

Which one are you? Our computer does so much and we have all grown to rely on it. How can we get on without it now? Having upgraded to Windows 7 my Toshiba Satellite with only 1 GB memory was just a bit slow. It was OK with XP in the past. Upgrading presents so many problems with hardware and software compatibility. Our good friend Sue has sorted it out by increasing the memory to 4 GB.

There are so many things we can do on computers. We can communicate with other like-minded souls through our blog or our web site, control finances, collect pictures and music and even load Kindle books. Even food can be ordered and delivered. But I need to limit my time computing because there are other things to do. Time together with Ann, moving and painting the boat and getting out for walks seem more natural and necessary for a balanced life style.

Social events and boats

We find ourselves staying in Braunston for a while. Sue, Vic, Les and us all went for a meal and chat in The Boat right by the canal. Next day we helped No Problem and crew up the Braunston flight of six locks to the summit. Sue and Vic were soon on their way to that tunnel after saying goodbye. We walked back down on our own and Les invited us in for tea as we passed Valerie.

A day later Rock n Roll, Seyella and Windsong arrived on the scene. It was a completely unarranged gathering of blogging boaters that lasted for a moment. At one point the canal was almost blocked as we exchanged greetings over the roof of boats.

We went off on a bus to Daventry to get away and enjoy the sunny day. It was sad to see a few shops closing down. In particular Nobes the handy huge hardware store. We had lunch in our favourite cafe on the corner that had changed hands. But still a bright clean place to sit and enjoy snacks, coffee or meals.

On our return we had time to visit the marina and see the gathering of Share Boats. They offer the means to own a smart boat and enjoy exploring the waterways for a month. Seems huge private investments are going into boats and marinas these days. It is such a shame that the public purse is not so willing to keep the waterways in good repair. It was quite noticeable how much frost damage had occurred during that hard winter. Many loose bricks requiring a lot of re pointing or replacing.

Still waiting in Braunston

Ann went off to see the grand children again while I wait for post. So far a pleasant few days going walkabout with Molly as the spring season develops. Carol and George were kind enough to invite me round for a meal one evening. I had cooked liver and bacon for my first meal on my own.

An engineer called to fix the grill that was inclined to go out before the toast was done. It was just a loose nut causing the flame sensor to go open circuit when hot but the 'fix' did not last long!

We had not intended to stay so long and were getting low on diesel so when Gosty Hill turned up I was happy to get Ian and Alison to fill the tank.

Census at Clifton

I had done my duty and requested a census form to be sent to Braunston but as yet it has not arrived. Somebody gave Sue a few spare forms so at least some boaters on the Grand Union were able to do their duty to Queen and country. Sue gave me one of the code numbers so I was able to fill in the census form on line. We are now known as wanderers of the waterways. It will be interesting to see the results of this national survey to find out how many people are living in mobile homes. Perhaps the government will respond in some way to improve services they provide for those mobile users of the waterways.

We had rushed all the way to Rugby and back to Clifton in order to purchase some vinyl flooring for our galley. It was a cold grey day that tested our resolve to keep going. Then Sunday was better for us as we stayed put and enjoyed a Sunday roast dinner with George and Carol on board.

Waiting for an event, Grand Union canal pictures

We had gone through Braunston tunnel with Rock n Roll. Then we spent a couple of days placing orders with Tesco and waiting for the delivery. All too soon we parted company. Sue and Vic had already gone south on the GU and George and Carol left to follow. We headed north up the locks near the Watford Gap Services on the M1. The motorway actually crosses the canal near the top lock. We stopped just short of Crick tunnel for the weekend. Del and Al happened to stop and came on board for a cup of tea and chat before continuing their journey south.

Our journey through Crick tunnel was uneventful and we called into the marina for diesel and gas. When I went to pay I was told they would not accept my declaration. "It is known that boats are moving now and you do not have a mooring here, please declare 60%," they said. I told the man that I have to sign the declaration so I settled for 20%. The diesel worked out at 99p a litre and the gas just over 25.

We continued to Crack's Hill just by bridge 14 and have been watching the sheep, lambs and birds. Margaret on Seyella had given us the recipe for ginger cake that Ann made and very nice it was too.

Our friends Terry and Myra are having a boat built at Crick and it is soon to be launched. We had hoped to both see the launch but it is delayed and Ann had already planned to go for a caravan holiday in Devon with the grandchildren. I will be occupied enjoying the sunny days painting bits of boat.

Sunshine and showers!

I got around to it, all syked up and got the paint pot and brushes out. Rubbed it all down in the morning, applied undercoat, had lunch and took Molly out for a walk in the sunshine. We went up to the Crick Millennium Wood, which was almost as high as Crack's Hill. Back on the boat I opened the tin of shiny blue. It was a bit windy and I hoped that the trees and bushes did not drop bits on the wet paint. There was certain coolness in the air when I had just finished. And then it rained! Not much but enough to spoil the finish. Oh well it will be harder to get syked up tomorrow in order to rub down for a second coat!

Up Crack's Hill, again!

Molly insisted on taking me out again in the morning! "Yes, tis true, and not the first time up that hill this week either!" As we approached the walk bridge I saw that a sheep was trying to get across with her lambs. Managed to get them off and back in the field and shut the gates that were all open. When I got to the top of the hill I found that some people have had a party and left the evidence behind. I reported the situation to Crick Parish Council. It is so sad that some people treat our countryside this way showing such lack of respect. The rubbish was cleared from the top of Crack's Hill sometime that afternoon.

Painting a roof

Later in the week Ann returned to me after her week away in Devon.

Painting a narrowboat roof is not a simple matter of just applying paint. Preparation takes longer as any good painter knows. The roof becomes a storage area for all manner of things. TV aerials or satellite dishes, centre ropes, gangplanks, and boat poles to name but a few.

We also needed guaranteed dry weather for a few days and some drive to get going. When all the equipment had been removed from the roof it became vast and intimidating. On close inspection every blemish is spotted, scraped, rubbed down and primed. Not with the usual red lead but with zinc phosphate!

The day was just too hot when it came to do the topcoat so we waited till mid afternoon before opening the tin. "Oh that is a bit bright," Ann said, "I wanted grey, not white." International Seattle Grey 251 it said on the tin. There was nothing for it but to continue our task, which took all afternoon and evening.

Friends on board and a Royal Wedding

Terry and Myra came up to Crick to see how their boat Plaidy was progressing. "Maybe next week now," they were told. We are waiting for the launch so our friends stayed on board for a few days. We have been up the Leicester section of the Grand Union before but had forgotten how pretty it is between Crick and Welford. The trees are getting greener and the sun shines through reflecting back off the water as we move along. It was a treat to let our friends do the driving as we admired the view while sitting at the quiet end. A few boats were on the move but nothing like as many during the Easter week.

Next day we all watched the Royal Wedding in the morning. What a wonderful happy event it was for the Royal family and the nation. William and Kate being transformed to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge no less.

The gas locker

The gas locker up in the bow has two vent holes to let the gas escape if there is a leak. The only problem is that these vents are near the waterline. The bow wave tends to flood in and out making it damp inside. Every time we changed the gas bottle we noticed how rusty it was getting. There is a fair amount of ballast in there to keep the bow down making the boat more level than it would be. Our friend Vic from No Problem had helped many years ago to put it all in.

So we got around to it and took the gas bottles out plus some ballast, the unused anchor and much else besides. I got in and rearranged the ballast left inside. Then set about scraping all the loose rust off. The floor sounded quite thin and I was happy to realise that it was not the bottom of the boat! A coat of primer was applied and when dry a coat of blacking went on as well.

That evening another problem presented itself. The starter battery has failed. It was at least five years old and only the first replacement so it has done well with the boat now seven years old. River Canal Rescue came and jump-started the engine using a spanner to short between the starter and domestic batteries. "Oh, I could have done that!" The engineer did not have a battery to replace it but did check that the starter battery was being charged. We then went into Crick Marina to get a replacement. The engineer, Tony Bale, got a new battery and fitted it next day. He is past retirement but happy to continue working in the mornings.

We then moved about seven miles north near a bridge with good walks and settled down for the weekend. The launch of our friends boat Plaidy is now due on Monday afternoon so we will get back for that.

A boat launch

The event took a while coming as is usual with new boat builds delays are inevitable. Launch day arrived; we moved into moorings at Crick and met our friends at the boat shed. They had arrived in a van full of their stuff in the morning. Then the news came that the crane had a punctured tyre and would be late! We all went off for lunch at the Red Lion in Crick.

It proved to be a long day waiting for news during sunshine and showers. First the lorry arrived then the crane. The boat was on rollers and the lorry pulled it out of the shed. The crane then lifted the boat up and lowered it onto the lorry. It was a short trip down the road to the marina where the crane transferred Plaidy slowly into the water. She went down and down into the water for the very first time and finally settled with perfect trim. Phil the builder from Strait and Narrow jumped on board to check for leaks!

Both crane and lorry departed while we helped Terry and Myra load their stuff on board. It was getting quite late by then and we left them to settle in.

Moving together

After the naming ceremony we were taken in Plaidy from the marina to our boat near Cracks Hill. Next day we went first, all the way to the Welford Junction.

Sunday is a day we tend not to move so I set about changing the oil and filter. I also replaced the air filter. The old one was quite black after a good few years of use. Crick marina does not have a chandlery so the replacements were purchased from Kilworth Wharf. They even had milk and bread, which is handy to know.

It was great to be on the move and we got as far as Foxton top lock where we turned in the wind. Backed up and filled the tank with water. It is very popular here with boats waiting to go down the locks. Boats at the visitor moorings had many gaps between them so we moved past them only to find it a bit shallow. We walked back to visit the museum, see the locks and enjoy refreshments at the top cafe. After that we both moved off to find better moorings the other side of the tunnel. Bridge 32 has been repaired with a bird box built into the wall!

Back to Crick and away

We all got back to Crick a week before the show and boats are already gathering for the event. Some boaters were complaining about the cost of the moorings. We found a spot by the Wharf while Terry and Myra took their boat back in the marina.

Mum is 92 this month and we hired a car from Enterprise in Daventry for the weekend. While we were away Dave Bassett continued to do more improvements in our boat creating a cupboard and new floor in the galley. We left the boat in his care.

We stayed with our grand children down south and took them out for a picnic in the park. The fish and chips went down a treat that sunny evening while parents went out. On Sunday we went to meet Mum for lunch at Titchfield Mill. Mum had no idea that we would be there as well so it was a complete surprise for her. "You should have seen her face!" So there we all were, a family of seven sat at a huge round table with the millstones below.

The car was returned safely having fed it with expensive fuel which almost cost as much as the hire itself! It is always a bit of a shock having to cope with the speed, traffic and navigation. Not helped when we discovered a diversion before getting on to the M40 and having to find our way without the aid of a map.

Crick seems lacking with just a Post Office store at one end and a shop at the other, but the Red Lion does good food. There is a medical centre with a pharmacy a bit further away. There is a bus running between Rugby and Northampton but access to Daventry is by coach only twice a week.

Now at last we have got away through the tunnel. We have been north of that tunnel for seven weeks, longer than we had planned and had only got as far as Foxton. But much else has happened in that time. Our friends have decided to stay for the show and get a few problems with their new boat Plaidy sorted.

A way of life, old and new

Boating is a way of life that we enjoy but it was so different back in the 1900s. I am reading a book about the working life on the cut. The canal system was built like a cross linking major ports and rivers with factories. Birmingham grew bigger because it was surrounded by all the raw materials needed to make iron and steel. The waterways kick started the industrial revolution. There were many families and companies involved with the transport of raw materials and manufactured goods. Cargo like coal, wood, iron, steel, crockery and even chocolate were moved about on the waterways until the railways and roads did it quicker.

The old boating families had a hard life having to load and unload much of the cargo by hand. They almost had their own language. The propeller was known as the blades while the rudder was the ellum. The diesel engine was kicked over to start and put out to stop. The A frames supporting the cargo covers was the cratch. Just like the Navy there is a name for every part of the boat or ship. If the boat got stuck on mud the skipper was said to be hill climbing.

Buckby is some way from the canal but has given its name to the drinking water can used by the old boaters because it was made and painted there. We have just had ours repainted at a shop half way down the Buckby flight of locks. It was always the boater's tradition to paint parts of the boat and various items belonging to it with roses and castles.

Moving down to Wilton, Grand Union canal pictures

We took our boat down the Buckby locks, sometimes called Wilton, joining a boat at the top but they went on down with a single boat at the next. While we waited for two boats to come up we were joined by another single boat coming down. "It is always safer and easier with two boats in these wide locks and worth the wait." We stopped at the bottom for diesel at Wilton Marina but were told that their tank was empty! So after getting an oil filter we moved on down to moor near bridge 19.

Be dazzled by the light near bridge 21. Richard Hall has designed a range of LED lighting to fit existing units. They consume far less power than any lighting previously used on boats. They are all regulated so work with a supply between 10 and 30 volts DC. LEDs without a regulator will burn out when the engine is run.

The canal is quite busy this week because it is half term with children on holiday. So you would not believe that the demand for boating holidays has fallen as reported in boating magazines and there are many more second hand boats for sale.

A natural life

We got water and diesel while passing through Weedon on our way to Bugbrooke. There we walked into the village to post a letter and visit the little shop. On the way back we sat a while in the millennium garden. It was on the way back to the boat that we saw two people waving their arms.

They were Les and Jaq from a boat called Valerie! Back on our boat we made tea and offered cake and biscuits while getting to know them both together. Jaq is lovely and friendly and it was not long before we were talking about English and American life. Jaq loves to do the cooking and has told us about many mouth-watering meals and snacks. It seems that there are many natural plants and herbs growing near our boats. Her knowledge of natural herbal remedies has been gained over many years of training. They were obliged to leave all too soon heading for the Wilton locks to be tackled the next day. We wished them both well on their journey back to America for marriage and hope to see them on their return.

A walk on the wild side

The wild strip along the side of a crop field is left for the rabbits, birds, bees, butterflies and other creepy crawlies. While the grain stands tall and green in dry cracked ground waiting for the rain to arrive, the skylarks are twittering above and diving to their nests. "When was the last time you heard the dawn chorus?" "Yes, I know you have to be up early but it is wonderful when you do because then you know that the countryside is alive." We walked to Rothersthorp where we saw some lovely thatched cottages and their rose gardens.

Short trips and slow going

Dave Bassett has been making cupboards for our galley and bathroom with one more to go in the bedroom. We have been trying to go slowly so he does not have to travel far from Crick to fit them. So we are moving a few miles and staying a few days.

We were somewhere near Blisworth when Mo and Nes on Balmaha stopped for a chat and we were happy to stop a while. The problem is that after three days we get itchy feet and need to move on. We try to find moorings with a hard edge to hook on to and some local walks.

Yardley Gobion has a marina that sells gas so we stopped to exchange bottles in between the showers. We passed the new Thrupp Wharf marina, which is filling up with boats. But there are still many boats on private moorings on the canal. It was BW's intention to reduce the on line moorings but there is no real sign of that happening. There are many large trees and bushes that reduce the width of the canal by half in places. So what with boats on one side and trees on the other it can be slow going down a one way street. We have stopped past Cosgrove lock. Above the lock there are many boats in need of tender loving care and BW workboats are occupying the visitor moorings by that lovely stone bridge.

A few hot days

We were still at Cosgrove when Terry and Myra arrived in Plaidy. We had spent a few days below the lock walking round the local quarry by the river Great Ouse. The 200 year old aqueduct takes the canal over that river at great height. Although short the aqueduct is made in a similar way to that one in Wales. The boarder of Milton Keynes is nearby and the footpaths are in excellent condition.

We stayed on board to watch the Formula One racing from Europe. Then Richard and Sarah on board Scarweather invited us for drinks and nibbles. We sat on the bow during that warm evening and watched the hot sun sink slowly below the horizon.

Next day we were off early to beat the heat and shop at Wolverton Tesco. It was when we came out that we felt the heat, as it had been cool inside! A few miles on got us to Haversham where we set up the BBQ. It was a cool spot with the trees providing shade as the sun moved round.

A patrol officer came by on his bike and agreed that we could stay 14 days here. It is not understood why BW have dismissed the patrol officer back at Cosgrove but they are regretting it now. Several years ago she was very helpful with local information. Like the lock keepers the people on the ground are very much needed to control the use of canals and moorings.

We were lucky to find a gap between the many boats at Campbell Park. Terry and Myra had stopped at the previous bridge and arranged to meet us after lunch. We all walked over to Willen lakes under an increasingly cloudy sky. A cafe provided cups of tea when it started raining. Such a change after those few hot days.

Wimbledon takeover

The second week is always best to watch with so much good tennis to see. We are moving but only short trips, getting lunch then watching the games. The ladies all seem to look the same with long blond hair whatever country they come from. "But why do some make so much noise when they serve?" Then it was the men's final with an unexpected result. I usually support the expected looser so that was a win for me. Our own Scottish player did well to get to the semi again. If we really want the Brits to win maybe we should give them more support.

Our anniversary

When at Fenny Stratford we went to the Swan for lunch with our friends to celebrate our 45th Anniversary no less. The shops in the High Street have changed since we were last here. It is a case of the small village and useful shops closing down because people with cars just go along Watling Street to all the drive in shop centres. Perhaps the huge rise in fuel costs will eventually make them change their habits. For those like us without a car, rely so much on the small village near the waterway for milk, bread, vegetables and post.

Things to do at Linslade

Visitor moorings at Leighton Buzzard are handy for the shops. There is Tesco, Homebase and Aldi here right by the canal. Linslade is on the other side of the canal and has a Launderette and a train station but not much else. The only Post Office is now to be found across the river in Leighton Buzzard.

It was only two hours at the visitor moorings so we moved on and were lucky to find a space round the corner. Now we have fourteen days to explore and use the facilities at our leisure. We arranged to get our post delivered but had to instruct the town's PO what Poste Restante meant. "We will collect it to save you having to deliver it to our boat." Then we striped the bedding and got all our bed quilts cleaned at the Launderette.

The satellite and local digital signal was temperamental due to the tall flats and trees near the mooring. The signal must have been bouncing around because the picture came and went every five minutes. Thankfully the post arrived next day so we moved on a mile to a new walk bridge near the old sand pit lake. The Sands of Time Trail making a good half hour walk round.

The TV signal was back to normal here so we were able to enjoy the F1 racing from Silverstone at the weekend. Many problems foxed the engineers and drivers with the improved track but not helped by rain on Sunday which only made half the circuit wet. So it was an entertaining race.

Have we seen the best of it?

We started boating in 1995 on the Kennet and Avon and have seen that canal grow and decline. In 2000 we got our first boat to live on as a retired couple. Much effort and investment in the waterways was making improvements, all be it slowly. It is now sadly getting much less support from government and deterioration has set in. In order to improve the situation volunteers are being recruited to support British Waterways. Back in the 60s and 70s many groups of people gave their time and effort to save the waterway system. Then all BW had to do was maintain the Navigation. Major changes to the financial arrangements and organisation at BW must result in a change in attitude.

Apparently boating is in decline despite rosy reports from various boat shows. Several canal companies are falling victim to the downturn. Now even well established boat builders like Reeves have failed. It is a shock indeed to the system, as they were known to be quality boats that kept their value in the market.

Marsworth

We move with friends on Plaidy. Every now and then we find a pub for lunch but it is not our usual way. At Marsworth there was a choice of Red or White Lions. Now only Red remains as a country half thatched public house by the canal. We had found a mooring between bridge 129 and 130 and walked to the Red one, beaten by a bunch of people off a day boat. Although our meals were slow coming they were worth waiting for.

While on a walk to the lock we realised how lucky we were to have found a space. All the moorings were taken with boats on both sides. The British Waterways yard is also closed and up for redevelopment despite local boater protest. I hope that the crane and boater facilities will remain for use.

Visitor moorings

Yet more boats up near the top lock at the visitor moorings so nowhere to stop. When we were here in 2005 there was at least a mooring warden who kept boaters moving on after their short stay. The visitor moorings further on in the deep wooded cutting were empty. No surprise really because it was dark, damp and too far away. Marsworth has turned into a two-mile stretch of residential boats on both sides. Simon Robbins, the NABO mooring rep., has told me that he was a warden in London. Now BW wants him back as a volunteer! So it seems that BW has lost the plot and is no longer in control of the situation.

Berkhamsted

When we reached Berkhamsted we were lucky to find a space below lock 52 opposite the park. It has been six years since we have been this far south on the Grand Union canal. Much has changed since then. Trees and bushes have grown up and are preventing the satellite signal getting through. Our terrestrial aerial was set up but only a few channels were watchable.

The main High Street runs parallel with the canal and river Bulbourne with a few bridges that cross the river. The town is very busy with many useful shops, banks and places to eat. At one end there is a wonderful hardware store with everything you may want or need. It is an Aladdin's Cave.

After a few days we moved on down the locks with British Waterways help. A lack of water has been caused by one lock not being shut properly over night.

Moving on down the locks

It was going to be a few long trips spread over a few days that we had planned. The locks are all wide on the Grand Union heading south to London so two narrow boats or one wide barge can get in. "There do seem to be more barges down this way." Some of the locks had to be left empty with a paddle up to prevent flooding. There were a few boats coming up which helped our progress

We did not adopt a routine so approaching a lock varied between Terry and I being first in on one side or the other. There was one automatic swing bridge to deal with at Winkwell that had been repaired after being damaged by a vehicle the previous week. The facilities at Hemel Hempstead near the lock were occupied so we breasted up in a convenient space between the many boats. The girls went off to the shops while we waited.

It had been a warm sunny day and the canal corridor proved to be quite rural being mostly tree lined through the town. We finally stopped just past the railway bridge at a wide grass edge. It was also deep enough with no other boats in site but the trains were a bit noisy as they passed Kings Langley. The train's electric pickup was creating some disturbance on the Freeview TV so Terry had to move in front of us. We stayed there a day, visiting Kings Langley and enjoyed a round of jam doughnuts and coffee sitting outside a cafe. It is somewhere around here that Ovaltine was made.

Next day we continued on down many more locks Cassiobury Park which is inside the outer circle created by the M25. Several locks had delightful little cottages with well kept gardens beside them.

Summer fruits

The blackberries are just pickable, as some are a bit bitter. There are plenty about along the towpath hedges. We picked over two pounds of blackberries and made four jars of jam.

Sadly the thorny issue of waterway finance has not yet produced any fruit When it does I suspect the best pickings will still be at the top with little benefit to the plant. Let us all hope that next year the sun will come out again to encourage new growth with fruit that is sweet. If we do not look after the plants the weeds will grow. Any gardeners out there are welcome to volunteer.

Moving into London, Paddington canal pictures

We turned on to the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union canal at Bulls Bridge 13 miles from the centre of London and stopped at Southall where the canal is still green and quiet. The shade under the trees was welcome on one of the hottest days of the year reaching 30c.

Next day Terry and Myra moved off early heading into London. After breakfast we followed. The first six miles were quite enjoyable, remaining tree lined and rural. But then it became depressing with all the weed and rubbish. Then tower blocks and factories replaced the trees. Then we slowed to a crawl as the prop picked up submerged plastic bags and rope. "I just had to beach the bow on the shallow edge and deal with the problem in the weed hatch." We were lucky to get on without picking up more rubbish in the disgusting state of the canal. It is looking like green grass with floating plastic bottles on top. We got our water tank topped up on the way into London.

Terry reported that Paddington Basin was full and on the way out they were lucky to find a space in Little Venice. When we arrived we just moored along side Plaidy. Surprisingly a 14 day mooring here in the City of Westminster, W2. Another day of heat while we got used to the environment and explored as other boats arrived.

Time in London, 1

Ann and friends took the boat ferry to Camden Market while I booked time on various attractions in London for when our family visit later. Next day we walked down to Kensington Gardens with Molly. Once there she was almost free to run about on the grass amongst the trees but had to be on a lead to walk round the pond.

There was Kensington Palace looking sad behind a temporary fence while the gardens get a makeover. Queen Victoria lived here, as did Charles and Diana. It took a while looking for Diana's memorial that we found ourselves heading for The Serpentine. The Diana memorial was a circular track of flowing water with children paddling in it to keep cool.

By now we were in Hyde Park and hungry so we found a seat in the shade and ate our sandwiches. People were rowing boats on the Serpentine Lake. On our way back to Paddington we found some handy shops in London Street. Our friends came on board that evening and we played Mah-Jong. Next day they left Little Venice just after breakfast.

Time in London, 2

There are cycle lanes, walking lanes and fitness apparatus. People are power walking and riding bikes. Many seem to speak a different language while on their mobile phones. Take care where you walk and listen out for those cyclists. Even the canal path is not safe for although the rule is no cyclists, they do!

We went on the Big Bus Blue Tour of London. Molly stayed on the boat while we picked up the ride near Paddington Station. We saw most of the sights while sitting on the top deck of the open top bus listening to a commentary on earphones. It was sunny and warm then. A cruise on the Thames was included so we took to the water at Tower Pier after crossing Tower Bridge. We found a seat inside the boat and then it rained! We ate our sandwiches while watching the tidal waters rush by the bridge piers. "I must say that sightseeing was better on the bus." We got off at Westminster and hopped on another bus to continue our tour. The weather was not kind to us. Out came our waterproofs. There was no room inside the bus. Police cars, vans and ambulances were rushing about in the traffic and making a lot of noise. Those riots were apparently kicking off in Tottenham. We think that our bus was diverted. We were told to get onto another bus to continue back to Paddington. By then the sun had come out and we got back to the boat in the dry. We feel quite safe at Little Venice while the riots are continuing to spread across London.

We are so lucky to be able to walk safely from the canal to Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park and Regents Park. We decided to visit Regents Park by walking along the Regents canal. There is no path through Maida Hill tunnel so we followed the road over the top and nearly got lost trying to find the other end. We eventually crossed a bridge over the canal into the park.

Molly was able to run about again on the grass among the trees. Then it was back on the lead to walk by the lake, which was full of natural wild life. There we saw Whooper Swans, lots of pigeons and a great variety of ducks and geese. It was a sunny day and we enjoyed seeing the flower gardens before walking back to the boat.

Time in London, 3

The next three days were spent with our grandchildren and their parents, staying on board at Little Venice while the sun shone. It had been suggested that we visited the Planetarium now at Greenwich, the Tower of London and get a ride on the London Eye. Tickets were pre booked on the Internet so we could fast track past the queues. Our Underground tickets were purchased each day in order to get a discount using our Senior Rail cards. We got two Oyster cards for our guests while the children go free.

Our family arrived at Paddington by train and the first thing to do was to find Paddington Bear. We just had time for sandwiches before setting off for Greenwich. Our visit was booked for two thirty so we got down through the tubes and on the Dockland Light Railway. The Bakerloo Line was noisy, hot and full. We actually got a seat on the Jubilee Line, which was cleaner. We got off at Canary Wharf and were very impressed how new and modern it all was. The DLR got us to Greenwich where we climbed the hill to the Royal Observatory. We all learnt about how the planets were formed and how different they were. Also saw a live demonstration creating an asteroid.

Next day we all set off for the Tower after a cooked breakfast. When we arrived we watched a contest between two Knights using swards and axes and then spent the rest of the day exploring the tower and the grounds. It has been a very long time since we have been touring the capital and must say how well all the sights have been cleaned and restored.

Although the London Eye was the most expensive ride it was well worth it for the views. The structure is simply huge and impressive. We had time during the day to get to see Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus on the way back to the boat. Our guests returned on the train from Paddington while we recovered.

We are now heading North, Grand Union canal pictures

The other end of the Grand Union canal seems a long way, all of 165 lock miles. We would like to do ten a day but our average is less than that. It may well be September before we reach Crick. Our friends have left their boat at Harefield Marina so we travel on our own. We tackle most of the wide locks without the company of another boat. There are plenty about at those permanent moorings but they do not move much.

While travelling we read about boating activity elsewhere during the August holidays. At least one boat has sunk in a lock that British Waterways managed to crane out while boaters waited. At another location a boat hit a lock gate and knocked it off its hinges! Navigation has been restricted at the summit levels due to lack of water in the reservoirs. The low water level is not just due to lack of rain. Sadly lack of maintenance and leakage at locks are another cause. At some popular flights, BW asked volunteers to help ensure safe and proper use of locks. The locks are often being locked shut at the end of the day. Some boaters are not helping the situation. We have had to shut a lock after a boat left it open and full. There was a notice on the gate asking for the gates to be shut and the lock left empty with a paddle up!

We leave London behind and the sights we have seen but keep the wonderful memories together with many pictures taken. We now have a chance to stop again at our favourite moorings. As we move our washing is being dealt with. Some wet days required the fire to be lit to assist the drying process.

Climbing up the Chilterns

We had got to Cassiobury and walked off Iron Bridge Locks up into the woods on clear wide paths. It was busy with walkers, runners and cyclists. The route we took went across the golf course several times so we had to look out for flying balls.

Back on board we were watching TV in the evening as you do, when the boat started to lean over! Looking out we could see the water moving towards the lock. We had to slacken off the ropes and push the boat off the mud but it was still leaning over. Went to check the lock and found the bottom gate open. The top gates were leaking badly so shutting the bottom gate solved the problem once the lock filled itself. All paddles were down as they should be.

We set off for Kings Langley in the morning and arrived in time for lunch. We travelled on our own for a while till Roman Lady joined us. Going up these wide locks is always easier with two boats and also saves water. The shops at Kings Langley provided us with bread, milk and veg. "What is it about those bright orange carrots that shrivel up as soon as you need them?"

A few days later we continued up and up the Chilterns. A boat called Midnight soon joined us. They wanted to go all the way to Berkhamsted so we agreed to stay with them, as it was a sunny day. We managed to do all of seventeen locks and six miles. The water levels were very low in many pounds between the locks. Most boats were going up and down two by two and we were lucky not to run aground in the shallows. One advantage of having a 57foot boat is it being a popular length. We were lucky to slot into a mooring gap that was just the right length. Now the moorings between locks 52 and 53 are completely full.

British Waterways bean counters are silly. They employ people to do maintenance but do not let them work because it costs too much! But now many have to control the use of locks and restrict navigation to save water. Now it is raining so maybe we will be able to continue up and down the system. Our future plans this year is to head for Staffordshire so hopefully once the August rush is over water levels will rise.

At the Summit

Despite the threat of rain we felt the need to move on up. The first two locks were done on our own while boats were coming down. Then we waited in a lock for a boat to come up. It was magic to get the help, the boat being called Merlin! But then it started to rain! Some of the pounds were a bit low as we progressed up through the seven locks to the summit at Cowroast. We read about some boaters who have no idea how to operate the locks. They are going up and down one by one in the wide locks when they could help each other and not waste the precious water.

However at this summit the pumps were working overtime and there seemed to be enough water up here, after taking on water for our tank we found another 57 foot gap to moor in. By then we had had enough of the damp conditions. Unfortunately a boater started up his noisy smelly petrol generator so we had to shut all our doors and windows. Thankfully it was only on for one evening! A few days later we moved on down the Wendover Arm where it was a bit shallow in places and as we passed a boat coming out we ran aground. The fishermen where we turned at the end were not happy to see us! We stuck our pins in just round a bend out of sight of them. A walk to Wilstone Reservoir found it to be very low. Overnight the water level in the canal arm went down a few inches.

Sharing locks?

We came out of the Wendover Arm turned sharp left and entered the open top lock and waited but no boat came. A boat was on the way up so we went down on our own. After dealing with six locks we stopped for lunch. There we saw that Marsworth reservoir was also very low. After another lock we found ourselves following a boat called The Long Wait. When we reached the next set of two locks with a short pound between we hovered for a while waiting for a boat that never came and decided to stop. A wide beam trip boat in front of us had gone down both locks turned round and proceeded back up after letting a single boat up. When that had cleared the lock we both went in. As the trip boat came up the lower lock we went down. The short pound was a bit low so we had to be careful not to run aground when passing the wide boat. We stopped in the afternoon and watched several wide beam trip boats going past in both directions.

What, we wondered would happen next. Well next day we got no less than three boats in one lock! Two short day boats hired from the local boat yard and us. They were all on a learning curve in the lock. One family had life jackets while the other with very young children had none. They looked the part though with their skipper hats on. We all managed to get through six locks without incident in the sunshine.

Housing on the canal?

It has been quite noticeable that there are more boats being used to live in, presumably due to the shortage of affordable housing. They tend not to be in comfortable marinas but congregate in mile upon mile on the canal. British Waterways have tried and failed to discourage this trend. I met a Captain Jennie from the Waterways Ministry. The Salvation Army are very concerned about the poor state of accommodation available in boats as an alternative to proper housing. A boat permanently sat at a mooring usually has no direct access to water or mains electricity, let alone the ability to dispose of waste products. Water has to be delivered to the boat by container or hosepipe. Diesel or petrol is required to generate power. This is often collected in containers and poured into the boats tank. This practice can present an environmental hazard.

Our friends on Plaidy are on the move again, now behind us, but got stopped at the top of Marsworth finding the top lock padlocked shut in the morning. A British Waterways operator explained that there was a shortage of water but let them through. As yet we have not seen any restriction in operation at Marsworth posted on Waterscape. Although there are reports that the Foxton flight of locks is closed and there are timed restrictions elsewhere.

Wot! No locks

We were at Fenny Stratford the other day when our friends on Plaidy caught up with us. We were just north of that lock with a swing bridge across it and they had stopped just south of it! While the girls went off shopping, the boys set off for a walk to Caldecotte Lake with Molly. As you may realise, we had travelled up and over the Chiltern Hills and down the northern side. Now we can enjoy a long stretch of water all the way to Cosgrove. That is 11 miles going past Milton Keynes.

We were having breakfast when our friends went past us on their way early at just after seven am! We left at nine and with nothing else to do but drive and walk with Molly the time seemed to drag. Half way through the journey we stopped at Lynford Wharf for water and get rid of the unwanted. At the end of our journey just before the lock we set off for a walk to find that our friends on Plaidy had gone even further than us. Three days later they had done twenty lock miles a day and got all the way to Crick!

Next day we set off heading up for Stoke Bruerne. But first a quick visit to that handy camp shop to get chips and peas to go with our fish that night. When we arrived at the bottom lock we went up with a boat called Jenny Wren. After three locks Rose and Ray came down to help. They live on a boat called Maddy Rose and invited us on board when we stopped below lock 15. We watched boats going up and down the lock sometimes one by one.

Emergency!

A single boat coming down got the rudder stuck on the cill. The lady operating the paddle was struggling to get it up but should be lowering it in a hurry. She was using one of those ratchet windies that had to be reversed. The boat took on water at the front, leaned over and went down leaving the back end up. Everything inside was crashing on to the floor! Ann happened to be walking Molly past the lock at the time. She came running back to get me to ring BW. The emergency number is printed on our licence holder. "There is a boat about to sink in a lock." "Which one?" "Second one down from Stoke Bruerne." "What canal is that on?" "The Grand Union." "How do you spell Bruerne?" I wondered if I was actually talking to a British Waterways emergency office!

A while later BW rang back wanting to talk to the owner. By the time I had got up to the lock a BW man had already seen the situation and actions being considered. Our friend Ray had got up there to help and the centre rope had been tied up to a bollard to prevent the boat doing further damage. An attempt to re float the boat only resulted in more water going in so the bottom paddle had been left up with the lock empty. It was quite distressing to see such a sight in reality and I told the owner that I would not take pictures out of respect. By this time Rose had made cups of tea and sandwiches for the owners and their cat. Thankfully they had got off the boat.

It was decided to lower the pound between lock 15 and 16. This would enable the boat to be pumped out. By now the top and bottom locks had been padlocked and a stoppage notice issued. Several boats including ours had to back down the previous lock. The water was flushed out of the pound, which went down by about two feet.

Both the gas bottle and well deck scuttles were blocked with wood. With several ropes and many men pulling on them with the lock paddle opened the boat was re floated and the people watching all cheered and clapped. Once the lock was filled the boat was pulled out backwards. The emergency had kicked off just after breakfast and by early afternoon we were able to continue our journey.

Batten down the hatches

We had stopped at Blisworth for the weekend. "Oh that wind does blow all day!" It is bad here but must have been much worse in the USA where the storm had raged earlier. Wind generators get some welcome power but TV aerials do wave about so. Rubbish bins that have just been emptied are getting blown about like the leaves from the trees. Take care walking under those trees for they wave their arms about like the Womping tree that J K Rowling wrote about. Un latched garden gates open and close on their own. Most boaters have stopped moving and those that try cannot leave their moorings or travel sideways if they do.

A few days later it was calm enough to move so we headed for Bugbrooke. On the way we stopped for water at Gayton Junction. It got busy when at one time six boats were either leaving or arriving at the facilities! It was still a bit windy on the way and there seem to be more boats on the move now.

At least it was sunny!

We eventually got to the Buckby flight of locks and joined a boat in the double lock. The boat was called Monarco, a hire boat from Napton. Most boats were coming down two in a lock, as they should be. Then there was one because the other had stopped half way down the flight. When arriving at the top lock we were obliged to wait with three boats in front. The lock keeper was waiting for another boat to join the one already in the lock to come down. The queue had already been waiting half an hour. Two boats were being allowed through every half hour. We ended up waiting an hour and a half before being allowed in with another boat.

We found a space at the top and set about placing an order with Tesco. The connection was a bit slow and unreliable so had to shut down and reboot the computer. "That is better now." At least the goods arrived next day. We moved to a mooring half way to the locks but could not get a satellite signal due to the trees. We do have an alternative aerial and a digi box but Channel 5 and others were not yet available at this location. Strange because the system listed the other channels but there were no pictures. "Wonderful technology is it not at times!"

Grand Union canal pictures

Next day we headed up the Watford flight that made a pleasant change because they were narrow.

Reflections at Crick

We have been east of Braunston tunnel travelling the wide Grand Union canal. It has been six months since we left Crick to head south for London. What a trip, what memories and pictures we do have. Now we are wondering where to go for the winter months. Here, we are a bit limited because Foxton Locks are closed to save water and it is not known if they will open in the winter.

We have been keeping track of our boating friends during the summer as they travelled about the waterway navigations elsewhere. Some have been down south on the Thames, the Wey and Kennet and Avon. Another has been east in Anglia on the Nene and Ouse while another has been up north and done the Great North Run! Yet another friend went to America, got married and returned to the boat with his bride.

We have decided to get a Gold Licence, which allows us to navigate the rivers and canals next year. It has been a long time since we have been on the Thames. Not since 2007 in fact. There is a certain lack of water on the south Oxford so we may not be able to get down to Banbury. It would have been quick and easy to jump on a train to go home for Christmas, a short journey from there and family may have come up to see us. So we are considering a trip north to Great Haywood again. Whichever way we go we need to get past the winter stoppages at Watford, Napton and Fradley locks that are shut in November.

I am 'home alone'

Ann is down south staying with grand children and visiting friends and family. She plans to get back on Sunday with our friends Terry and Myra who took her home by car. I have Molly to look after and take me for walks twice a day! While it has been so hot I am thankful for the tree shade.

I occupy my time between reading GCSE Chemistry and sorting my historical boat pictures. Chemistry is a subject I never knew about when at school so I find it hard to absorb. It is answering the questions I had but it seems to generate more! Many of those boat pictures are to be found in our web site already but a major update is work in progress. I just find it so interesting finding out about their history and the hard working families who drove them all over the waterways. They were the lorries of their day in the 1930s. Back in the 1700s mules or horses pulled the boats. Pure manual labour was required to load and unload the cargo. Many of the old boats have changed hands since they were built for the old canal carrying companies and are cared for by private ownership.

Warm days in Autumn

Ann came back to me with our friends who bought her back in a hire car from Enterprise. Then we set off to get diesel and gas in the marina and filled the water tank on the way to the tunnel. It was a warm sunny day when we joined a short queue for the Watford locks. Two boats on the way up and then we follow another going down. Despite the lack of rain Crick tunnel was still dripping wet as usual and we met several boats in that bent Braunston tunnel. Then we stopped at the top lock for the night. Remarkably one boat came up that evening in the dark despite requests to save water.

We joined a boat next day to go down all the way and found a volunteer lock keeper in attendance. He was controlling the queue of several boats going up. Luckily we found a space by Butchers Bridge and had lunch. Braunston for us is where we start and end our journeys and where we get things sorted for the boat. The engine has done 6,000 hours and I have booked Justin Green to check things in the engine 'ole. He recommended that the antifreeze should be changed for one thing and I asked if he could check out the fuel system. He is so busy that we are obliged to wait a week before he can start. Our fridge is as old as the boat and now the door fails to seal properly. A new Shoreline fridge is an inch taller so may not fit without some changes in the galley!

The Geoff Amos bus has been taken over by Stage Coach and it now takes three busses to get to Banbury from here. Ann needed to get home again and is on the way but had to wait an hour in Daventry having just missed the connection. The next bus now goes to Southam and another to Banbury, then a train to Southampton. Lets hope the other connections work out better.

More changes

British Waterways will be called Canal and River Trust next year. The problem is that there is not much trust in those men in suits at the top level of so called management. A serious change in attitude must happen if the canals and rivers are to retain their navigations. It is no good blaming the problems on the weather.

We have a week before things get done in the boat in Braunston so we have moved to Calcutt. The reservoir here looks quite full. A new farmer has been busy cutting down trees and bushes and ploughing his fields. The canal is now a bit more exposed so some moorings are less cosy. BW has been doing their bit beefing up the towpath edge. Plenty of space there to dump some dredged mud out of the canal! If only they could do the same on the other side, then the dredged material could be put back where it came from.

Seven days, Grand Union canal pictures

We came in to Braunston from Calcutt after a walk round the reservoir. Mo and Van passed through and stopped for drinks and a chat about our summer adventures. With the Foxton locks closed due to lack of water they are to travel the long way round to get to Leicester.

The lock keeper at the bottom lock in Braunston is controlling boats going up. A single boat is obliged to wait up to an hour in the hope that another boat arrives. The lock keeper told us that BW is concentrating on maximising water supplies to the canal system. While many reservoirs are nearly empty the feeders are now being dug out. A feeder is usually a spring and ditch that drains water from the fields into the canal.

It was a surprisingly warm sunny day when we walked the two miles to find George and Carol on Rock n Roll. On our way we saw the sad sight of a sunken boat. Surely this one is passed its use by date. It was good to see our friends again and talk about our adventures south of Braunston.

It got cooler as we made our way to Wharf House for our engine service and new fridge. The fire is now being lit mornings and evenings but it won't be long before it stays on for the winter months. The engine now has fresh long life antifreeze put in, the fuel system serviced and thankfully all quite clean with little sign of contamination. Our washing machine got moved sideways to make room for the new taller fridge. The plumbing for the machine proved less of a problem to alter as first thought. Next day after drilling holes in the floor the new fridge was put in and switched on. It required a hard pull to get the door open to find that the light was on and not long before the contents were transferred to the new quiet fridge.

Boating friends, Oxford canal pictures

We moved on passed those twin locks at Hillmorton and stopped at Clifton. Not much water saved by BW closing one of the twin locks. The amount of water used just depends on how many boats pass through. Water would only be wasted if a lock is filled or emptied without a boat in it. On the way we stopped for tea alongside Valerie. Good to see Les and Jaq enjoying their time together this side of the pond.

We took the bus into Rugby from Clifton, which is now the No. 10 from Daventry. There seems to have been many changes to the bus routes this year. We were back on board when Rock n Roll passed by.

We moved up to Brownsover when Rock n Roll moved off and left a space for us near Milly M. A chat with Maffie resulted in some volunteer activity. There was so much rubbish floating about and dumped in the hedgerow that Maffie filled no less than four black bags with it. It was all on the other side of the canal so Ann threw a rope across and pulled them back. Then I put them all in the skip at the entrance to the car park.

Moving on a mission

The new galley cupboard doors are now fitted and varnishing is in progress. The priority now is to get past Fazeley before the locks close in November. We arrived at Hawkesbury in sunshine, stuck the pins in and put the washing out to dry before it rained. Milly M had got here first and Maffi was on his way back after filling more black bags clearing another site of rubbish. We have been lucky to travel all the way to Atherstone in sunshine before the rain came. We stayed a day to finish the varnishing, do some shopping and get a flu jab. We had to pay for it at Lloyds Pharmacy because the Medical Centre only provides it for the locals.

George and Carol led the way down the locks. George was kind enough to lift a paddle when required to refill the lock for us. There were many boats coming up which also helped progress during another sunny day. The water level is a bit low at the bottom heading for Polesworth so we stopped short of the town.

We got past the locks, Coventry canal pictures

The canal crosses over the river Tame after going down a few locks having passed by Tamworth with their pretty gardens. We approached a low road bridge, the A5 Roman road called Watling Street. "Quick, lower the Bimini," I cried." You may wonder why they build some bridges lower than others. We had to crouch down to avoid hitting our heads! We topped up with water at Fazeley and stopped at Sutton where Rock n Roll caught up with us.

We all went to the large new shopping complex nearby. More room for cars than shops, almost. This is why the old town centres are closing down. We do not have a car so find these places within walking distance of the canal. We were on our way next day with new goodies and got to the northern end of the Coventry canal. Let's just say that those new goodies present a technological and cultural challenge that George is helping me with. That evening we went to the Swan for dinner. Local boaters know it as the mucky duck.

Trent and Mersey canal pictures

The locks at Fradley are to close on Monday so we have to turn left at the junction on to the Trent and Mersey. There are only three locks to get up but each has its own problems. The first was OK this time because there was room to wait for a boat to come down. The second has a gate that is reluctant to open without help and the third has a gate that opens as soon as it is closed! The moorings at the top were too short for both boats so we continued on the extra mile to Kings Bromley. It was sunny when we moved but after tea on Rock n Roll it rained as forecast. Ann and Carol went for a walk between the showers.

Cannock Chase

We stopped a while at Rugeley. The town seems to have recovered from the shock of loosing Woolworths. While some shops closed down many more have opened. We found the bus station and were lucky to jump on one that was about to leave! It took us on a pleasant journey through Cannock Chase to Stafford. We got off at the train station and got our pre booked tickets to get down south after Christmas.

Our access to the web has been through a Web n Walk dongle connected using a USB lead and has served us well. But now the new Multi Access Computer does not like it. George on Rock n Roll suggested getting a MIFI device that works much faster.

Now we have moved on to Great Haywood. Got some diesel, water, disposed of the rubbish, cassette contents and moved to an available space for the weekend.

All changed

We missed the bus because it passed through Great Haywood at ten minutes to the hour not five past as before. We got the next one. When returning from Stafford, do not miss the twenty past two because the next is at four pm! We had to rush about the shops to get things done.

The farm shop at Great Haywood has a smart new building and is expanding with a good selection of vegetables, homemade produce and a butcher. The marina has a new owner and is full up so no room there if we needed it. Last year we had booked in for Christmas but could not get there due to the ice.

The other major change on the horizon is of course BW to CRT. The Canal and River Trust will take over in April next year. It will affect us all who have boats on the waterways. Perhaps now is the time to make suggestions through NABO, RBOA, and other boating organisations like all those canal societies. Hopefully we will be able to communicate more directly with people who know a bit about the waterway system. After all if we are to pay a bit more for our wonderful life on the waterways we should at least have some effective input.

Another change

Publishing a blog, updating our website, emails, music, etc are all achieved using a computer and a mobile Internet connection. Things we do and use every day. A miracle of maths and science that we almost take for granted these days. We have been travelling with George and Carol on Rock n Roll. When invited on board for tea n biscuits it is like being transported into the future of communication and information technology. All these wonders are available now in this 21st century.

It seems that even two years is a long time holding on to technical equipment. It was many years ago that we met up with Sue and Vic on a boat called No Problem. We were encouraged to get on to the Internet but it proved to be a struggle at that time. Determination and persistence was required. Mobile Internet was new and slow.

Our new MIFI dongle is so much better. And so is changing from a Personal Computer to a Multi Access Computer! It is taking some time to get used to the new operating system, which is why the blog is late. ITunes is the one familiar application that plays all our music but IPhoto is new to us.

The transfer of all our folders and files from the external hard drive was easy. Switching on the MIFI and the MAC simply got us on line and we were reading all our friends blogs, including Sue's one from an ocean liner. Now 'aint that amazing.

Sport

We watched the F1 racing on Sunday, a lively broadcast from Brazil. A wonder of communication taken for granted these days. Beamed up to and down from satellites in space. Who said that was a waste of money? Vetel was the champion this year. The cars have travelled far and wide at high speed all year and some have fallen by the wayside. Wheels have come off, tyres have punctured, gearboxes have failed, but it has all happened with a high degree of safety.

Next year a new set of cars will be produced to continue the excitement. The spectacle will be watched half live on the BBC. Sky TV muscled in to show the other half live for a price. But then that will not be the only sport to watch. It will be Olympic year for us to show the world. The Olympic torch will be carried around Britain and will pass by that Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Dudley and Foxton which all feature the waterways.

Mean while back to the present, we wait the arrival of Seyella with Geoff, Margaret and Meg on board. Last year at this time in November we were all stuck in the ice. We have been up and down the lock to get water, disposed of the unwanted and loaded up with a delivery from Tesco.

Another boater arrives

George on Rock n Roll phoned to say that Seyella was on the way up from Penkridge. So George, Carol and I with the two Mollies walked down the canal to help. We had gone over a mile before we saw the boat below Otherton lock. Margaret was the skipper and Geoff was busy with the paddles. But then Geoff took on the skipper roll to bring the boat into the lock. The rest of us performed the locking process. Once the boat got to the top I grabbed a lift for the mile to the next lock. Then helped a bit with the locking. Luckily the warm sunshine made for a pleasant trip.

I am a single hander

No, a single hander is not some one with one hand, but a skipper of a boat with no crew on board! It is I because Ann has gone home for a week to do Christmas shopping with our grand children and plans to return on Monday.

A convoy of boats have gathered at Gailey and already the occupants have got together for two evenings in a row! No picture taken but it was good company during these cold winter months. Plans for the next move were made and even arrangements for visitors when we get to the destination.

Geoff suggested getting some hot soup ready for the trip and offered his Thermos flask because I could not find ours. I made the soup and buttered some rolls. It was one of the coldest days even though it was sunny and I was well wrapped up for the four-hour journey. Only two locks to deal with, the one at Gailey and one at Autherley junction. Both George and Geoff were there with the windies in their hands to lock the three boats through some time after ten.

Although I had Rock n Roll in front and Seyella behind I still felt lonely on Moore 2 Life without Ann travelling with me on board. I managed to get the soup and rolls down my neck during the trip. Molly was let off at one point but promptly got back on without taking advantage of the grass!

Shropshire Union canal pictures

Having turned on to the Shroppie I was the first to arrive at the moorings past bridge 7 and got the fire going. Then we all gathered on board Seyella for a welcome warm drink of tea and a mince pie to eat! Is this the start of the Christmas season? I see that Derwent 6 have already started their celebrations.

Moving to Onn

I continued to Wheaton Aston while the others stopped at Brewood. I got to the top lock and settled down for the evening and occupied myself with the cooking and walking out with Molly. Next day I waved at Margaret through the window as Seyella passed. Geoff set up the lock and kindly beckoned me to take it. He let me down to head for the water point while setting the lock for himself. We both ended up filling the water tanks and then moved on. I stopped opposite Turners while Geoff continued to Little Onn. Later after picking up a Tesco order and diesel Rock n Roll passed by to catch up with Seyella.

Ann came back to me by bus from Stafford bringing with her a bag full of goodies and a pile of post. Despite doing most of our business on line it is staggering how much paper comes to us to deal with. We have decided to get a Gold Licence for next year so we can go down on the Thames. BW sent us a renewal notice for the standard licence but an attempt to convert it to Gold failed on line. Now they will have to process a cheque sent by post!

On a walk up to the shop and Post Office we discovered a light dusting of frozen snow. No sign of it down in the cutting surrounded by trees. Backed up to Turners to fill up the diesel tank with 130 litres at 75.9 pence a litre. Then it was full steam ahead to catch up with the convoy at Little Onn.

That evening the gang came round to our boat. Last year we were all stuck in ice but now we can move about. "So where to go?" I asked. Might have gone down to Stourport but the river may be wild. North then to Market Drayton and maybe later to the Welsh canal. It is Christmas on board, then for us a train from Stafford heading south to see the family.

A long weekend

Well being retired is like a long weekend off work only longer. A boating friend once told me that a bad day on the boat was better than a good day at work. I just mean that we stayed in one place for four days and it happened to include Saturday and Sunday. We set off from that mooring in the middle of nowhere heading north. The side wind made the bow point northwest! We were the first to arrive at Gnosall and filled up with water. There are two taps here so Rock n Roll got in behind us. There was only just enough room for the three-boat convoy so we advised Geoff to grab the space that we had passed. We backed up into the spaces just by the bridge.

Next day we all got the bus to Stafford, a good service here with two an hour. The one we were on got so full that many people were standing. Got some presents, clothes and some lunch before returning to the boat. Geoff moved Seyella up to get water and found a space just before the old railway bridge. Margaret invited us in for Sunday lunch, which was very enjoyable with the wine and mince pies later! Time marched on with us chatting and putting the world to rights and it got dark before we returned to M2L.

The convoy moved off one by one heading for Norbury, only a few miles away. We left last as Ann went off to the butcher while the washing machine did its work. Another load got put in for the journey. It took the rest of the day to dry while Ann went off for a long walk with the gang. I finished off writing all those Christmas cards.

Andrew Tidy from Wand Ring Bark gets my vote for offering his services on the Canal and River Trust as a boater rep. There are to be only four boaters elected to represent our views. I am sure that we all wish him well and can only hope that things will get better.

Deep mid winter

We took on water and diesel at Norbury Wharf. As promised the day warmed a bit with some sunshine as we moved through the deep cuttings and along the embankments of the Shropshire Union. We were well wrapped up and had hot soup on the way. All members of the convoy moved off a bit further north and gathered for refreshments on Seyella just past Knighton. Ann had made some mince pies that went down with the tea. Margaret made chocolate cake, which also disappeared!

The shortest day

The shortest day of the year is Thursday the 22nd with a long night either side! As Christmas fast approaches we can look forward to those longer days to soak up the vitamin D when the sun shines. The longest day was back in June. Why isn't the shortest day the last day of the year in mid winter? Then the longest day would be in mid summer. "Anyone care to suggest the change?" I think it was Julius Caesar in Roman times that set December as the 10th and last month of the year. Then along came Pope Gregory to add a few more months. With all those changes since Christ was born who really knows when his birthday was?

The convoy has reached Market Drayton. It was one of those dull cool grey days to endure the four hour trip. The thought of hot soup on board Seyella kept us all going! It was midday when we arrived at the top of the Tyrley locks where we all topped up with water. A Good Samaritan with a windlass of his own but no boat assisted our journey down the locks! A willing gentleman who enjoys helping boaters through the locks, winter or summer. It was quite late when we all gathered on Seyella to enjoy that hot soup and rolls.

Christmas and birthdays

With our convoy of three boats stationary over the Christmas period we have arranged gatherings in each. Rock n Roll on Christmas Eve, Moore 2 Life on Christmas day and Seyella on Boxing Day. Carol and George made a wonderful dish with chilly and thoughtfully a separate dish without for Margaret and me. After that a chocolate cake with cream. Then Geoff and his quiz entertained us all.

On the day we had Venison with a red wine sauce. The cooking instructions found on the Internet! Our local friends John and Sue had taken us to the butcher a few days earlier. The rich meal almost defeated us that included the usual roast potatoes and parsnips, with Brussels sprouts and carrots. We enjoyed Ann's famous pudding with a sprig of holly to follow. Hot flaming brandy was poured over it and served with home made brandy butter. Perfec. Classic FM provided the carols in the background.

The gang came round for the evening. Our Towers of Hanoy puzzle invented by a French man captivated Geoff. Readings from my father's Stuff book kept us all entertained with his jokes and stories. We made a punch with red wine and herbs and fruit that went down well with various cookies, puddings and mince pies.

Geoff and Margaret had us all on board Seyella for Boxing Day evening. This time Geoff had created a quiz on his computer based on Catch Phrase. Once again we all contributed food n drink so there was still plenty to go round. Margaret made a turkey pie.

Between Christmas and the new year I face up to a bit of a mile stone in life with a naught and a seven to indicate my age. "Mum cannot believe it." "More behind than in front as some would say." Ann and I have been boating since the mid 90s and have enjoyed every minute of it discovering and exploring the waterways. We left the boat in the care of Geoff to head south and celebrate my birthday and the New Year. Our grand son Ben will soon be 7 and I 70.

Thank you for reading Chapter 17. Return to Book